From the bank or boat, with jugs or rods and reels, TWRA's Family Fishing Lakes offer great summer catfish action. (August 2006)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency created its Family Fishing Lakes program to encourage old-fashioned family fun in quiet, natural settings. Ten of the 18 lakes in the program are in western Tennessee and offer everything you and your family need for a perfect outing.
For example, inboard motors (translation: annoying personal watercraft), other recreational boating, skiing and swimming (with one exception) are banned, and alcohol is strictly prohibited. On these special lakes, you'll find good boat ramps, playgrounds and restrooms, picnic tables and bank-fishing areas and well-marked fish attractors in the water. You'll also have excellent chances of hooking up with plenty of the most family-friendly of fishes --blue and channel catfish.
And the best news is that those cooperative cats run in a wide range of sizes to suit your interests: They may fit your frying pan -- or outweigh your kids.
Generally, Family Fishing Lakes are open year 'round from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. Concessionaires on most of them operate bait and tackle stores, rent boats and provide all the other expected goods and services -- from fishing licenses and lake permits to snacks for hungry kids -- from March 1 through Nov. 1. Anglers who are 16 to 64 years old must have a $5 daily permit (or $40 annual permit) in addition to a valid fishing license on eight of the lakes we cover here. The special permits aren't required for anglers who are under 13 or who hold lifetime or annual sportsman licenses; those 65 and older need only a permanent senior citizen license.
Officials consider most of these lakes as no-wake zones, and individual fisheries may have special regulations, facilities or operating dates. As we review them in geographic order from north to south, you'll find telephone numbers for the appropriate lake concessionaire or TWRA regional office for follow-up questions and details.
And now, with the rules and regulations out of the way, it's time for the fun stuff -- a review of all 10 Family Fishing Lakes in western Tennessee.
This 183-acre lake in eastern Weakley County benefits from the TWRA's annual fertilization program, which promotes the growth of algae and zooplankton at the bottom of the food chain on up to bragging-sized catfish at the top of the chain, according to Dave Gabbard, the agency's Region 1 wildlife information coordinator. The lake lies east of Dresden, where you can reach it by taking State Highway 190 off State Highway 54 and following the signs.
A $60,000 renovation in 1997 added the handicapped-accessible fishing pier, second boat ramp on the southeastern shore (locals prefer it over the older one on the northwestern side) and other family-friendly amenities, such as a dock and picnic area. Garrett is the only Family Fishing Lake that's open around the clock, and no lake permits are required. However, remember to pick up your bait and supplies on the way because there's no concessionaire here. Gabbard recommends turkey liver for Garrett's channel and blue catfish.
"This is a great lake for catfishing," said Connie Hensley, enthusiastic manager of the Carroll Lake concession store. "I caught a huge catfish on a jug -- I'd guess it was 40 pounds -- and the average-sized catfish that people catch here on a daily basis can be up to 9 or 10 pounds!"
This may be the TWRA's best destination for anglers who want to catch a mixed bag. While blue and channel catfish are the featured species, old-timers tell stories about flatheads, too. Hensley also verified that anglers occasionally weigh in albino blue catfish, and she's even hooked into one that she estimated at 3 1/2 to 4 feet long.
Summertime hotspots in this clear, 100-acre lake include the deep holes on either side of the lake's levee, Hensley said. She also points newcomers to a creek that divides a bed of lily pads directly across the lake from her store. Creek channels that average 8 to 16 feet deep and the creek near the boat ramp are also productive. There's plenty of shoreline access for bank-anglers, too, Hensley said.
Carroll Lake lies along State Highway 22 in northern Carroll County, about four miles east of McKenzie. To reach it from Interstate 40, get on Highway 22 at exit 108 and follow it for 20 miles. For more information, call the lake concession store at (731) 352-3133.
GIBSON COUNTY LAKE
This newest TWRA Family Fishing Lake is unique because it's large enough to accommodate recreational boating and those who want to focus on fishing. Anglers have a 200-acre, fishing-only zone and share the other 360 acres with swimmers, personal watercraft and other recreational boaters. Opened to the public in 2003 and already full of catchable-sized fish, Gibson County Lake is about five miles east of Trenton off Vaughn's Grove Road in the east-central portion of its namesake county.
"It's a good, clear lake with lots of old trees and deeper structure" that make it easy for novice boaters to navigate, said Kathy Gordon, who operates the lakeside concession. "In the summertime, the fishing will be heavy with 2- to 6-pound catfish."
Local anglers do best with turkey liver, "which holds on to the hook better than chicken liver, and the fish don't pull it off as easy," Gordon explained. Some of the best areas for blue and channel cats include the first main-lake point to the left of the boat ramp and the deep water near the levee. Watch for the large, prominent stump there, too: Hungry catfish congregate near it. For more information, call the lakeside store at (731) 855-2990.
DAVY CROCKETT LAKE
Once known as Humboldt Lake, Davy Crockett Lake proves that good things come in small packages. At 87 acres, it's one of the smallest TWRA Family Fishing destinations, but it produces outsized blue, channel and flathead catfish and has served western Tennessee families for more than 50 years.
You can expect to catch whiskerfish in the 3- to 30-pound range here, according to John Curtis, who works at the nearby Humboldt Hatchery, where the TWRA raises catfish for stocking in all the lakes reviewed here. A 68-pound blue cat set the lake record, and Curtis reasons that this small fishery produces so many huge catfish because they gorge on plentiful bluegills.
During August weekdays, drifting turkey livers under jugs is the most popular tactic on Davy Crockett, Curtis reported. (Jug-fishing is prohibited on some summer weekends and holidays, however.) Along the lake's most prominent feature -- a lar
ge peninsula that divides the water into two long arms -- you'll find steep banks and the deep water that catfish crave.
"You can catch them on big minnows, and catalpa worms are good if you can get them," Curtis advised.
To reach Davy Crockett Lake from Interstate 40 in eastern Crockett County, get on U.S. Highway 45 at exit 80B and follow it north to Humboldt. Stay on the bypass west of Humboldt, then take a right onto State Highway 152W. For directions and current fishing conditions, call the lake concessionaire at (731) 784-3889.
MAPLES CREEK LAKE
The blue and channel catfish in this 90-acre lake have a taste for turkey and chicken livers and night crawlers, according to TWRA spokesman Gabbard. Maples Creek Lake lies within Natchez Trace State Park in the southeastern corner of Carroll County.
"During hot weather, the locals fish primarily with jugs," but bank-fishing here is productive, too, Gabbard said. The lake is fairly shallow compared with most other TWRA Family Fishing Lakes, so you'll increase your catch by bumping the bottom of the main creek channel with bait. Because the lake is several decades old, much of the original timber is decaying, but you'll find fish seeking refuge from the summer heat under vegetation and in a few pockets covered with lily pads. While the average fish is a pound and a half or so, it's not unusual for anglers to tangle with 15- and 20-pounders, Gabbard confirmed.
To reach Maples Creek Lake from Interstate 40, take exit 116 onto State Highway 114 and follow it to Maples Lake Road. You'll find a boat ramp and handicapped-accessible fishing pier here. There's no concessionaire, but you can call TWRA's Region 1 office at (731) 423-5725 for additional information.
BROWN'S CREEK LAKE
This 167-acre catfish haven is the other TWRA Family Fishing Lake within Natchez Trace State Park. It's south of Maples Creek Lake, in northeastern Henderson County. Gabbard credits the TWRA's fisheries management program for the good catfishing here: A fertile lake and plenty of manmade fish attractors ensure good conditions for growing double-digit blue and channel cats. Where you spy TWRA buoys, you'll also detect brushpiles or other fish-attracting structure nearby.
Shaped like a jigsaw puzzle piece, Brown's Creek Lake has plenty of tree-lined coves and creeks to explore, and there's some bank-fishing access. If the catfish aren't cooperating, you might dangle a jig or minnow in brushpiles and hope to hook a descendent of the 4 1/4-pound state-record black crappie caught here in 1985.
Although you can rent a boat for only $8 per day or cast from a pier designed for disabled anglers, there's no concessionaire. For more information, contact the TWRA Region 1 office at (731) 423-5725. Brown's Creek Lake is 10 miles south of Interstate 40 in Natchez Trace State Park. From I-40, take exit 116 and follow State Road 114 to Brown's Creek Lake Road.
"A catfish, he's a scavenger, and he can be anywhere," said concessionaire William Clyatt as he described the fishing on Lake Graham in eastern Madison County. "This is a very clean, spring-fed lake with extremely clear water, shallow coves and 25- to 30-foot-deep water in the main lake."
You'll see standing timber in about half the water, and the TWRA left plenty more on the bottom when it built Graham in the early 1980s. At 550 acres, it's the second-largest Family Fishing Lake.
Graham supports channel cats, and also some big blues (up to 64 pounds, which is the lake record) and a few flatheads, Clyatt said. A healthy threadfin shad population keeps the big fish well fed. If you and your family haven't yet invested in a boat, this is the place for you: "There are lots of areas on the bank here with access to deep water," Clyatt reported.
Boaters catch their share of summer cats by dunking large minnows 15 feet deep along the creek channels.
Lake Graham is five miles east of Jackson; to reach it via Interstate 40 from Memphis, take exit 85, turn right onto Parkway, left on Bendix, left again on Cotton Grove Road and follow the signs. From the opposite direction on I-40, take exit 93 onto U.S. Highway 412 and follow it to Cotton Grove Road. For more information, contact Clyatt's concession store at (731) 422-0950.
GLENN SPRINGS LAKE
If you dream of battling giant catfish without venturing onto major rivers or impoundments, this western Tipton County lake is just your place.
"It's not out of the ordinary to catch 30- to 50-pounders here," according to Ann Clyatt (yes, she's the wife of Graham Lake's concessionaire William Clyatt). "I have a bulletin board full of pictures, including some who've caught catfish up to 60 pounds."
While many of those leviathans succumbed to jugs baited with turkey or chicken livers during the summer, anglers with rods and reels take their share, too.
Spring-fed and clear, Glenn Springs covers 310 acres and was opened to the public in 1995. While the upper end tends to be shallow, the steep shoreline drops off as deep as 35 feet. Although there's not much room for shore-bound anglers, the facilities here make up for it, with three fishing piers that total an incredible 740 feet long and people regularly catch limits from them, Clyatt said.
Boaters and jug-fishermen tend to focus on the dam area, but freshly fallen timber from last winter provides shoreline cover worth a few casts, too. To reach Glenn Springs from Memphis, take U.S. Highway 51 to Millington, turn left on Wilkinsville Road and follow it to Drummonds Road, where you'll take another left. Continue on Drummonds Road to Glenn Springs Road, take a right, and then take a right on Grimes Road. For fishing updates and other details, you can reach the lake concession store at (901) 835-5253.
This 158-acre northwestern Hardemann County impoundment is relatively shallow and silty compared with the other lakes we've covered, but it still produces average-sized catches of blue and channel cats, thanks to "stocking and management by the fisheries crew," according to Gabbard.
No special lake permits are required here, and you'll find the standard amenities, including a ramp, fishing pier, picnic area and so forth. Whether you cast from shore or a boat, turkey livers, catalpa worms and night crawlers are your best bets here. The lake lies two miles south of Whiteville off U.S. Highway 64. For more information, call the TWRA Region 1 office at (731) 423-5725.
HERB PARSONS LAKE
Thanks to a walking trail that encircles this lake in western Fayette County, it's our No. 1 destination for bank-fishermen.
"People who like to fish from the bank prefer to come here," according to Jolie Locke, who manages the lake concession store. "The lake record catfish is 74 pounds, and catfishing is popular year 'round."
Because of its proximity to Memphis (a few miles north of Co
llierville), Herb Parsons Lake gets heavy fishing pressure, but much of it is directed toward largemouth bass. Catfish anglers do well with night crawlers and commercial stink baits, but Locke gave up her secret for making turkey liver the most-often touted catfish bait for western Tennessee even more tempting: "I soak it in garlic and ketchup for two or three days and let it get real stinky." (Use this recipe at home at your own risk.) She regularly lands 2- and 3-pound cats in front of the store with this concoction.
During the summer, boaters should turn left as they leave the ramp by the store to explore a series of coves, or they can also find excellent fishing by turning right and heading toward the T-shaped pier and the levee. Much of this 177-acre lake is 6 to 8 feet deep, but you'll find some 30-foot water. "People who fish the beaver dams pull some big catfish out of them," Locke advised.
To reach this hotspot, follow State Highway 205 out of Collierville to Monterey Lake Road, take a right, go to Fisherville Lake Road, and then turn left into the lake's entrance. From Interstate 40, you can get on Highway 205 from exit 25 and follow it south to State Highway 193. At that intersection, turn left and proceed to Fisherville Lake Road, where you'll take a right and look for the entrance. You can reach the lake concession store at (901) 861-5087.
On all these lakes, the daily limit is five catfish per person. The TWRA's other eight Family Fishing Lakes are in central Tennessee. You can learn about them on the agency's Web site at www.state.tn.us/twra.
Find more about Tennessee fishing and hunting at: TennesseeSportsmanMag.com.